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Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Vol. 1 Hardcover – November 15, 2010
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Starred Review. Mark Twain is his own greatest character in this brilliant self-portrait, the first of three volumes collected by the Mark Twain Project on the centenary of the author's death. It is published complete and unexpurgated for the first time. (Twain wanted his more scalding opinions suppressed until long after his death.) Eschewing chronology and organization, Twain simply meanders from observation to anecdote and between past and present. There are gorgeous reminiscences from his youth of landscapes, rural idylls, and Tom Sawyeresque japes; acid-etched profiles of friends and enemies, from his "fiendish" Florentine landlady to the fatuous and "grotesque" Rockefellers; a searing polemic on a 1906 American massacre of Filipino insurgents; a hilarious screed against a hapless editor who dared tweak his prose; and countless tales of the author's own bamboozlement, unto bankruptcy, by publishers, business partners, doctors, miscellaneous moochers; he was even outsmarted by a wild turkey. Laced with Twain's unique blend of humor and vitriol, the haphazard narrative is engrossing, hugely funny, and deeply revealing of its author's mind. His is a world where every piety conceals fraud and every arcadia a trace of violence; he relishes the human comedy and reveres true nobility, yet as he tolls the bell for friends and family--most tenderly in an elegy for his daughter Susy, who died in her early 20s of meningitis--he feels that life is a pointless charade. Twain's memoirs are a pointillist masterpiece from which his vision of America--half paradise, half swindle--emerges with indelible force. 66 photos and line illus. (Nov.) (c)
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*Starred Review* In explaining his dissatisfaction with his early attempts to write his life story, Mark Twain blamed the narrowness of the conventional cradle-to-grave format: “The side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be, also, of its history.” This volume—the first of three—makes public autobiographical dictations in which Twain unpredictably pursues the many side-excursions of his remarkably creative life. Embedded in a substantial editorial apparatus, these free-spirited forays expose private aspects of character that the author did not want in print until he had been dead at least a century. Readers see, for instance, a misanthropic Twain consigning man to a status below that of the grubs and worms, as well as a tenderhearted Twain still grieving a year after his wife’s death. But on some side-excursions, Twain flashes the irreverent wit that made him famous: Who will not delight in Twain’s account of how, as a boy, he gleefully dons the bright parade banner of the local Temperance Lodge, only to shuck his banner upon finding a cigar stub he can light up? But perhaps the most important side-excursions are those retracing the imaginative prospecting of a miner for literary gold, efforts that resulted in such works as Roughing It and Innocents Abroad. A treasure trove for serious Twain readers. --Bryce Christensen
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This book aims to be the definitive edition by publishing everything that Mark dictated or wrote after 1905 in the order that it came into creation. Prior publications were much shorter as various editors organized what they thought was interesting, had his family's approval and was in some chronlogical sequence (Charles Neider did the best overall job of this fifty years ago). What the reader has here is Mark Twain's true speaking voice -- he is doing a monologue in your presence, going wherever his memory takes him.
Because it’s such a long autobiography, I’m sure the editors had a difficult time deciding when to end each volume. Volume One ends with a better sense of narrative completion than Volume Two, which ends on a more random note (I read each of these as they were published) Now that all three volumes are available, new readers won’t have to deal with the feeling of being left hanging. My only quibble with Volume Three is that I wish the Ashcroft-Lyon Papers had been inserted into the autobiography to correspond with the time they were written. As I was reading, I had wondered why there was such a huge gap in diary entries during the summer of 1909, which is explained in the introduction to the A-L Papers. I also wished that Twain’s final words were of his daughter Jean, rather than Ashcroft and Lyon. It’s a minor thing, but I thought I’d mention it.
I can’t understand the complaints from other reviewers that the writing was too long or too rambling. (stay away from Dickens!) Twain says at the very beginning that he isn’t going to do a “normal” autobiography. This is not a book to be read from cover to cover in one or two sittings. I read this book while reading other books over the course of several months. I would read two to four entries at a time and absorb what he said. I really got a feel of that era and I enjoyed the history as much as Twain’s own words. The reason why I say the reader should use two bookmarks is this: I kept one bookmark at Twain’s entries and the other bookmark at the descriptive notes in the back. I’d read one entry and then immediately read the corresponding notes. This gave me a better feel for the subject and who people were. It really enriched the reading experience.
I’m extremely impressed with the hard work that went into publishing these volumes and they do not disappoint. If you’re a fan of Mark Twain these books are totally worth it.
Author, critic and playwright William Dean Howells--and Twain's friend for more than four decades--referred to Twain as "the Lincoln of our literature." But that was only one facet of Twain's life. He was a journeyman printer, steamboat pilot, newspaper reporter, prospector, world traveler, platform lecturer, inventor, businessman, family man, and at the time of his death he was the most recognizable man on the planet.
For almost forty years, I taught "Huck Finn" to my high school students and read everything about Mark Twain that I could find, including the original edition of his autobiography as well as published collections of his letters and biographies by Justin Kaplan ("Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain) Ron Powers ("Mark Twain: A Life").
Just when you think you have learned everything about Twain, the University of California Press comes out with the definitive version of his autobiography. Vol. 1, which came out four years ago during the centennial year of Twain's death, shined a light in corners of Twain's life that had not yet been exposed. This second volume does more of the same.
This is not for the casual fan. (The would better be served by Powers' excellent biography mentioned earlier.) But if you want to know Twain on an intimate level, you will want nothing less than each installment of this sprawling autobiography. Much of this may be seen as ephemera, like Twain's commentary on a passage from Susy's Biography regarding how numerous the houseflies were at the Hartford home. To the delight of the children, Olivia placed a bounty on flies, and the children went so far as to recruit neighbor children to provide them with flies to collect the bounty. Through each of these hundreds of anecdotes we get a glimpse of this remarkable 19th century renaissance man. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED